Taking your medicine: vital to health, vital to savings

Greg Kueterman from Eli Lilly and Company discusses the results from a recent IMS study on patient adherence and looks at the cost savings that could be achieved if patients took their prescribed medication properly.

A recent study by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics put forth some staggering data: the U.S. health care system could save $213 billion annually if medicines were used properly. Perhaps unsurprising to those of us in the health care sector, non-adherence (or not taking a medication as prescribed) was listed as the largest factor, accounting for nearly half of the potential savings – $105 billion, including $72 billion for hospital care.

More specifically, IMS studied the impact of non-adherence for six specific conditions – high cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, HIV, and congestive heart failure. Imagine the savings – not to mention the better health and quality of life for more patients – had the report looked beyond these six. And while the data are from the U.S., the takeaway is equally important for Europe and the rest of the world.

In the U.K., for instance, the costs of admissions resulting from patients not taking medicines as recommended is estimated to be between £36 million and £196 million in 2006–07.1 And preventing unnecessary hospital admissions for medication could save the NHS a significant part of the £150m “medicine waste” recognised in a Department of Health report.2

It turns out that taking your medicine is, as Lilly Chairman and CEO John Lechleiter recently noted in Forbes, “good not just for individuals, but for the health care system as a whole.”

“…the U.S. health care system could save $213 billion annually if medicines were used properly.”

Pharmaceutical companies know this and are taking steps to help tackle the issue. Coalitions such as the Script Your Future campaign bring together the public, private and nonprofit sectors to address the need for people to stick to their prescriptions as directed. The IMS report put a spotlight on examples of innovative and effective programs that are finding ways to combat the many reasons people don’t take their medicines, which include forgetfulness, side effects, not being sure they need medicine, and of course, cost. We are making progress.

On the individual health savings front, the numbers back it up. A 2011 Health Affairs study showed that patients with chronic conditions who had better adherence to prescribed medicines had savings of $3 to $10 in non-drug spending for each additional dollar spent on prescriptions. This led to a net savings of $1,200 to $7,800 per patient per year when compared to non-adherent patients.

But as we talk about cost, it’s also important, as Dr. Lechleiter noted, to look at the bigger picture. He made the following important point in Forbes.

“Conventional wisdom holds that pharmaceutical treatments are a major cause of high health care costs, but the fact is, medicines account for only about 10 percent of health care spending, and they’re often the most cost-effective means of preventing and treating disease.”

He went on to say:

“The IMS report and other research on adherence makes crystal clear the value of medicines in holding down health care costs for everyone – when they’re properly used. It’s further evidence that medicines – far from being the problem – are a big part of the solution.”

“…we must continue to develop more new medicines to address unmet medical needs.”

At Lilly, we often talk about the important role medical innovation plays in the long-term sustainability of health care systems around the world. We reflect on the incredible impact of medicine on longevity, (for example, in 1900 the average American life expectancy was 47; in 2000, it was 78) and understand that we are living improved, more active lives as a result of medicine. We see that diseases such as HIV/AIDs – once considered a death sentence – are now manageable.

The studies on adherence show that we must continue to develop more new medicines to address unmet medical needs. Encouraging appropriate use of medicines – and therefore decreasing costly spending from hospitalization, emergency care and nursing home admissions – is an important component of managing a patient’s health and the health care budget.


1. http://www.nice.org.uk/nicemedia/pdf/CG76CostStatement.pdf

2. http://www.hsj.co.uk/resource-centre/best-practice/qipp-resources/how-improved-medication-adherence-can-prevent-costly-medicine-waste/5041067.article

The next Eli Lilly & Co article will be published in September.

About the author:

Greg Kueterman has worked in the business of health care communications since 1996, including 14 years at Eli Lilly and Company. Greg currently works in corporate media relations at Lilly, where he manages media outreach for the company’s government affairs, public policy, and access organizations. He also provides strategic support for European Operations. Greg has been involved in the company’s premier social media platform, LillyPad, since its inception in 2010. Greg is one of three regular bloggers on LillyPad – where he focuses specifically on “Life at Lilly” issues. Before joining Lilly’s media relations team, Greg worked in marketing communications and employee communications at Lilly, and he also spent three years at WellPoint, the largest health insurer in the U.S. Greg is a 1987 graduate of the Indiana University School of Journalism. He spent nine years in the newspaper business before taking on communications roles in the corporate world.

How much could be saved from patient adherence?